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Life as a scullery maid isn't that bad

I may have a future as a butler, or even a lady’s maid.

I know I watch way too much TV. But in my defense, I do tend to watch pretty high-quality television.

For example, we not only watch “Downton Abbey” every Sunday night (which compared to staring at junk like “Wheel of Fortune” or “The Bachelor” is kind of like taking a history class online), we embellish that detailed review of the British caste system with additional viewings (thanks to the Multnomah County Library’s video collection) of the old Masterpiece Theater series “Upstairs, Downstairs.”

I now know more than I ought to about the roles played by butlers, footmen, chauffeurs, lady’s maids and cooks. And recently, I discovered that I — in my role as caretaker for the other person who lives at our house as she recovers from bilateral hip replacement surgery (meaning she did both at the same time) — am in fact filling all of these supporting roles by myself.

That’s right — because I spent the last few weeks helping Her Ladyship get dressed, get in and out of bed, take showers, dry off following said showers, apply assorted unguents and oils to dry skin and so much more, I am indeed a true lady’s maid.

However, because I also have done all the food preparation at our house, I am the cook, the cook’s helper and scullery maid, PLUS the poor boob who scurries up and down the stairs with trays of food, tea, water, dishes, silverware, condiments, salt and pepper, butter, vitamins, drugs and everything else M’lady might require at mealtime. And that doesn’t even include my other roles as housekeeper (which entail cleaning and dusting and laundry duties), all the driving to and from medical appointments, shopping for food and household supplies and hauling wood for the stove (which is stone cold until I build the morning fire).

In the current PBS series, that means I’m not only Carson and Mrs. Hughes, but also Mrs. Patmore, Daisy, Anna, Molesly, Barrow, O’Brien, Bates and even Tom Branson, who used to be a downstairs guy (chauffeur) but ascended to the main floor by marrying Sybil Crawley.

In the old Masterpiece Theater series, those roles were performed by Mr. Hudson (the butler), Mrs. Bridges (cook), Rose (maid) and Alfred (footman), plus other assorted people in service. Again, all of them in this instance are played by me.

At the risk of sounding boastful, Her Ladyship says my cooking has been quite excellent. It was no surprise that my meatloaf was good because I’ve made it lots of times. But I stuck my neck out with brand new dishes, such as a rib roast I got on sale at Fred Meyer. I backed that baby up with roasted potatoes and vegetables (all cooked together with the meat on a cookie sheet). A couple nights later, I turned those leftovers into an awesome rib roast soup featuring all the supporting ingredients.

I also came up with a killer gumbo, another dish I never tried alone. And because I was winging it without some of the fresh ingredients I normally would have used (like jalapenos), I tossed in some “unknowns” such as canned chipotle peppers (a whole can, due to my inexperience), which made it a gumbo not for sissies — but it did have a nutty roasted flavor that isn’t usually in the gumbo at our house.

Ironically enough, in the time it has taken to compose this epistle on my several weeks of service, M’Lady has recovered a good deal. She is now wobbling around mostly without the use of the two canes loaned to her by friends in the medical business. She goes up and down the stairs several times a day now, pretty much ending my upstairs-downstairs servitude. The big tray is back in the closet under the stairs, and we’re back to tag-teaming

many of the chores I was having to do completely solo.

It is good to have the help once again — and not because it was so hard. It’s just a lot more fun having my partner back.

Mikel Kelly is the former chief of the central design desk for Community Newspapers and the Portland Tribune, and he contributes a regular column.